Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the category “Common Core”

This is our Sputnik moment.

School’s all across the nation are either starting or about to start a new academic year. It’s suppose to be an exciting time for students and teacher. However, this year may be much, much different.  This has been the summer of Trump. Our students  have been subjected to Trumpism all summer.

Before this weekend’s horrific events in Charlottesville, I was wondering where did we go astray. How could our nation elect someone like Trump? After this weekend, I think I have the answer.

As a teacher, it’s hard for me to admit this. I view this past year as a failure of our education system. As educators we have not fought hard enough to protect our curriculum, our methods, our standards and our public schools.

All too often we  observe teachers dutifully, following directives that they don’t agree with. We observe teachers, following standards that are not research based and often inappropriate for the children they teach.

I have watched  Social Studies lessons being put aside for high stakes testing skills and subjects. I have observed Social Studies standards morph into ‘big ideas’ that often lack correlation with history. For example, teaching about the Articles of Confederation without taking the necessary time to teach the events that led up to them.

Social Studies is being put aside. Now we hear STEM is the new ‘ big idea’. Science Technology Engineering and Math is turning into this year’s new focus. We’ve already witnessed literature, take a back seat to non-fiction in Common Core.  Look at the results, look at society, and ask yourself, “ can we really afford to abandoned the humanities”?

We need to refocus our teaching towards Social Studies. Link your lessons towards teaching history. Not a whitewashed version, but real history. The history of the peoples of the world.

We now have a President that has no understanding of our nation’s past. We have thousands marching in the streets protesting things they do not understand.

This is our Sputnik moment. We need to emulate the counter protesters of this weekend by resisting any attempt to water down our curriculum. We need to stand against those that want us to teach a revisionists version of history.

Forget the damn high stakes tests. It’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and do what we need to do to save our nation. Resist and teach like our future depends on it, because it does.

Anger doesn’t describe it

New York State assessments conclude today. Half of my fifth grade students will have sat through over 9 hours of abusive assessments while the other half opted out and today is the worse day of all. Today’s math test includes overly complicated questions that most of our members of Congress would flub. They are multi-step atrocities that are designed to confuse and befuddle.  I am prohibited to post any of the questions until a select few are released to the public. I am pretty positive the hardest questions will never see sunshine.

Here is a general  idea of what one of these questions looks like.

A factory produces 4,861 items in 30 day. They then package them in crates hold 8 each. These crates are delivered to 26 distributers daily. How many are delivered each week to each distributer?

Ten year old children must be able to answer this question correctly, otherwise their teacher may be labeled ineffective.

Now here is the rub…

The New York State Department of Education issued the following  statement in a press release this week.

 Commissioner Elia said. “With substantive changes and increased guidance for educators, teachers will be able to develop curricula and lesson plans to meet the needs of students in their classrooms. “

The key words here are substantial changes.  That is admission that the standards that today’s tests are designed around are faulty.  Why subject children to 9 hours of abusive testing based on standards that require substantial changes? A warped political agenda is being driven right smack dab at the children on New York.

Anger doesn’t describe my feelings. Our society is being driven over a cliff by an extreme ideology that will destroy our nation. When we look the other way when children are being forced to fulfill an agenda, when we allow school children to go hungry, when we refuse to provide health care, when we demonize a segment of our population, we are heading for a fall.

Resist.

Independence?

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On this 4th of July it is appropriate to quote our Declaration of Independence in response to those that want to undermine our public schools.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;”

To paraphrase from the Declaration,

On this Independence Day it’s time to declare that our public education system will no longer be subjected to a long train of abuses and usurpations, under a design to reduce it under absolute Despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such forces, and to provide new Guards for future security of our schools!

Dane Ravitch shared a leaked draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. While there are many Planks that I strongly agree with, I must say that I am quite disappointed with the Planks on education. One would think that since the AFT and the NEA jumped on Hillary Clinton’s bandwagon with a way to early endorsement, education would be at the forefront of this Platform.

Unfortunately, this platform’s Plank on Early Childhood, Pre-K, and K-12 is  nothing more than rhetoric used to fill up a page in a meaningless statement. Much like Clinton’s promise to close every school that is below average, it actually puts our public schools at risk.

Let me first state that the Republican Party is in shambles and I will not support Trump or his Party. That said, I post the following in hopes that enough of us will speak out and demand real change.

When the Democratic Party declares that they will ensure there are great schools in every zip code and that the Federal Government will continue to play a critical role, it should send shivers up our collective spines. Just what does this mean?

Will the Party hand over control  of our schools over to John King to allow him to systematically wrest control away from local communities, much like he did in New York?

When bureaucrats tout high standards as a paradigm to success, we should be questioning whose standards? Just what are those standards and should the standards be the same for every child and every community in our diverse nation? Common Core is a failure and it appears the Democrats are doubling down on this miserable social experiment.

The Party Platform also states, “We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states  accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students,  students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.” Does this mean the Party will continue the disaster of high stakes testing? Just what does accountability mean? Is this what Hillary meant when she said we should close every below average school? Simple math tells us below average means the bottom 50%. Is this the Party’s plan?

The Party’s  Plank also throw support behind charter schools. It claims increased transparency. Just what does that mean? Increased transparency does not mean total transparency. It does not mean that they will be held to the same standards as public schools. It does not mean that they will prevent charters from hand picking students, weeding out those with special needs, and hijacking space and resources from public schools.

They refuse to state that if they actually supported public schools and public school teachers there would not be any market for charter schools. Until we have true campaign finance reform, hedge funds  will continue to drive the Party’s Planks on education.

The bottom line, the AFT’s and NEA’s way to early endorsement resulted in a lackadaisical rhetoric   filled  platform that double down on the reformers agenda which will make us more dependent on false promises.

On this Independence Day it’s time to declare that our public education system will no longer be subjected to a long train of abuses and usurpations, under a design to reduce it under absolute Despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such forces, and to provide new Guards for future security of our schools.

Let your voiced be heard, demand changes and take back our Party. Declare our independence from those working to destroy our nation’s future.

 

 

 

Open Letter to Commissioner Elia

Dear Commissioner Elia,

This past Thursday your visit with Long Island teacher union presidents has validated the concerns I have with you as our Commissioner of Education and with your agenda. I listened carefully as you attempted to spin an agenda that was set by your predecessor, John King, and Governor Cuomo. You often hid behind federal policy or existing legislation as you addressed the concerns and questions posed to you that evening. Your attempt to blame our union for “agreeing” to the use of high stakes testing was sophomoric.  In addition, abruptly ending the meeting when you knew several of us wanted our turn to “ dialogue” with you was an insult to us and the thousands of teachers,( and teacher as parents ) on Long Island we represent.

I take exception to many things you stated when you met with us. You claimed that parents and teachers wrongly put everything that is negative in education today under the Common Core. You then attempted to spin that your Aim High NY survey somehow supported Common Core because they are high standards and that we just have to “rework” some of them.

Your Aim High NY survey was akin to a “push poll’ in politics. It was nearly impossible to condemn the Common Core Standards, it was cumbersome to answer and the survey taker was forced to work within the Common Core to offer changes. Yes, you were right when you stated we want high standards, who would be against that? You use that premise as you continue to spin faulty, abusive standards. New York had high standards, and before your predecessor push for the Common Core, NYSED was working towards improving them. I would like to know, how much was spent on that effort and where did those recommendations go?

When questioned  about the state assessments and with comments that we felt these tests were abusive and hurt children, your response was cold hearted and left me feeling that your really don’t care what children are facing as long as we meet a federal mandate. Your claim that the tests will be shorter and that tests will be untimed was addressed by those in attendance. We asked about ESL students, students with special needs and the concern that this new plan will not work. You fell back on your reform agenda to provide answers that only led to a validation that things are not changing and that you have been charged to drive Governor Cuomo’s and John King’s reform agenda.

Your simplistic view that parents and teachers are ‘stressed’ and that you are attempting to relieve that stress by listening to us and working towards some sort of change is nothing more than spin. You said that you believe in a standardized evaluation system that uses assessments as a component of that system. That is not relieving stress, that is signaling that the state will continue to abuse children with high stakes assessments that are meant to drive a political agenda.

When you were questioned on APPR, you stated that some state that there is a 4 year moratorium on using those scores but you prefer calling it a transformational period. You stated that scores will not be used for 4 years. Yet, when someone questioned that they may be used in the future you claimed they would not. You did not address the fact that the new scores will still be generated and distributed to teachers, districts, parents and the press. You did not address the fact that those scores will be used as advisory scores for districts. You did not address the fact that the assessments are based on standards that you admit are seen as inappropriate for many children and that are currently being rewritten. You claim these assessments are mandated by federal policy. My question for you is this; does federal policy require 8-9 10 year olds to take 9+ hours of exams?

Your response to the Opt Out movement was disturbing. You said that New York had the highest Opt Out rate in the nation and in the same breath you said, that Opt Out was not a factor that has driven you to do anything you have done in the last 8 month. Then you went on to say that you hoped that parents would let their children take the tests this year. You were then told to expect Opt Out rates to soar this year. We informed you that these tests have no instructional value. Your flip response was that additional questions have and will be released. You failed miserably to address our concerns and as a result many of us have begun to double down on our support for the Opt Out movement.

You touted that in Hillsborough, Florida, you worked with the local union to develop an evaluation process. With all due respect, New York is not Florida and Long Island certainly is not Hillsborough. The results on Long Island are clear; if we were a state we would lead the nation and the world. We do not need your “fixing”.

You claim that you have been throughout the entire state “listening”. Your social media campaign, including your Twitter account is chock full of your attempts to spin the comments on your so called “listening tour”. But one thing became perfectly clear to me on Thursday evening. Your “listening tour” is not about you listening to the parents and educators in the state, it’s more about we should “listen” to you. And that Commissioner is a shame.  This local president listened and I have no confidence in you or your agenda.

Respectfully submitted

Ralph Ratto

President

New Hyde Park- Garden City Park Teachers’ Association

A question for the new year

This is usually the month that a so called pedagogical  necessity  is used all across our nation.  I think we all need to think about the following.

Were the engineers, scientists, or contractors who designed the lunar module and put men on the moon ever forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?comamndandlunar

How about the engineers and laborers who tamed a mighty river and designed  and built the Hoover Dam to supply electricity for millions, do you think they ever were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?

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The Empire State Building was construct in only one year. Do you think the architects, contractors, laborers, financial backers of this monumental icon were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?

The ” Greatest Generation ” saved the world and guaranteed a future for all of us. Do you think they were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?

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Do you think scientists and doctors who achieved medical breakthroughs, such as Dr. Jonas Salk   were ever subjected  and were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?

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Look at this shot of the construction of New York’s Verrazano bridge. Fifty years ago, the people who imagined, planned, and built this might structure were never subjected  or forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity!verrazano

My question today is, where is the evidence that subjecting our elementary school children to hours of ‘ benchmark testing’ to assess their readiness for high stakes standardized testing, helps our nation?

All across the nation, elementary school children are being ‘measured’ by this  so called pedagogical tool. Ask yourselves why?

 

 

Is this just another sleight of hand ruse?

Is the pendulum really swinging or are we just part of a sleight of hand ruse?

3 card Monte

As a deadline creeps closer and school districts all across New York State huddle in negotiations with local teacher associations to agree on a new evaluation plan, under the threat of a loss in state aid, a prominent Regent and Governor Cuomo have either come to their senses or are imitating Penn and Teller.

Regent Tillis of Long Island said to a forum of teachers,  “I oppose the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals,” and  “not admitting a mistake is making a bigger mistake.” He also called for an end to the use of the state’s so-called “growth scores,” and he recommended changes in state law that would allow more emphasis on local measures of achievement. These would include “Student Learning Objectives” — assessments adopted by school districts — as well as teacher-written tests and “portfolios” of students’ classwork. He also made a point to say he was speaking as an individual and not for the Board of Regents.

At the next meeting of the Board of Regents on Sept. 16-17 they will be voting to make the new teacher-principal evaluation rules permanent. The question remains, will Tilli’s vote reflect his bold statement to teachers or will he say once again he has no choice but to continue the status quo? Are his words just a distraction from the criticism he has been receiving, much like a Penn and Teller trick? I hope not.

New York Governor Cuomo issued a press release today stating ,

 “The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed. To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns. I am taking this action not because I don’t believe in standards, but because I do.”

He promised to ask  a representative group from his former Education Commission, including education experts, teachers, parents, the Commissioner of Education and legislative representatives to perform a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns.

Cuomo’s sleight of hand has been exposed before. I don’t trust him anymore than I would trust the guy on the corner playing 3 Card Monte.

Cuomo states, in his press release, that he believes in the standards and he blames the NYS Education Department for its faulty implementation, even though he held state aide hostage until his vision for implementation was adhered to.  Cuomo goes on to say he sympathizes with the frustration of parents yet he refuses to visit with them at the schools where their children go.

Cuomo refuses to meet with teachers, refuses to visit our classes, and he knows full well that he continues to hold state aide hostage today, until teachers agree to his faulty rollout of Common Core.  Notice he is not calling an immediate halt of his new evaluation plan!

What do you think? Is that pendulum swinging or are we the target of a sick magic trick?

Outright lies, inaccurate information, and confusion

New York State Republican Senators and the Board of Regents Chancellor  are beginning to push back against the tsunami of parents and educators who are collectively calling their recent comments and vote a disaster.

During yesterday’s interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, Chancellor Tisch labeled parental and educator comments as nothing more than ‘noise and nonsense’ and attributes the many cases of anxiety in children to the rhetoric, language and tone of their concerned parents. She  doubled down on former Commissioner Kings comment that special interests are behind the recent uproar and that only the State Education Department is capable of having a ‘grown up’ conversation regarding reform. She claimed high stakes testing is the only way to identify income inequality and that the Common Core Standards actually designed to reduce the amount of testing given to children and she told us to calm down. She also warned us that it could take 10 years to get this right.

Senators all across the state chose yesterday to also push back. There have been reports of calls, letters and e-mails being sent to constituents and they all seem to have the same message. Don’t believe what you are being told, we voted for this bill because it is the best we could do.

Here is the e-mail I received from my State Senator Jack Martins followed by my response:

 Thank you for expressing your concerns about the education budget which was adopted by the legislature.  However, there has been confusion, inaccurate information, and in some cases outright lies reported by others about what this legislation actually entails.  For the record: 

  • The adopted budget rejected the evaluation system proposed by Governor Cuomo.  It DOES NOT require, stipulate, or even support his proposal that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on standardized testing results.  Rather than have the Governor or the Legislature, most of whom have no experience in the field of education, set evaluation criteria, we placed that in the hands of the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents.  SED will develop recommendations by June 30th, which will ultimately be reviewed and considered by the Board of Regents.  They are the professionals responsible for setting all education policy in this state; they should be setting this as well. Importantly, they are independent agencies which the Governor does not control; he does not appoint the members of the Board of Regents nor the Commissioner of Education.  Taking politics out of this process is an important protection.

  • During the development process, SED is required to have a public comment period so that you and all other stakeholders have the opportunity to voice concerns, before any recommendations are finalized.  

  • The legislation specifically requires SED to come up with recommendations about how to reduce the amount of state and local testing for students.  These recommendations must be developed by June 1st.  

  • Unlike in the Governor’s original proposal, we allowed for local control to be part of evaluation guidelines through collective bargaining. Additionally, we stopped his plan requiring teachers to be evaluated by someone completely independent and outside of their school district.  Each school district can collectively bargain who, in addition to the regular observations by building principals, will perform classroom observations (e.g. other principals or personnel within the district).  The law requires evaluators to be trained to prevent someone lacking knowledge in public education from determining an educator’s fate. 

     As a parent, I understand that anything dealing with our children’s education is oftentimes an emotional issue, because we all want the best for our children.  We want them to get a great education and have every opportunity to succeed.  It’s untrue, and quite frankly offensive, for anyone to suggest otherwise. 

     Governor Cuomo’s proposal was wrong for both students and teachers.  That’s why we pushed back and negotiated what I believe is a far better alternative than what the Governor proposed.  Had we not done so by the April 1st budget deadline, the state constitution would have allowed the Governor to force us to choose between accepting his proposal in its entirety or shutting down the government.  For me, that option was unacceptable.

     Should you wish to review these components in greater detail, I have attached a copy of the bill sections dealing with these issues for your convenience.  If you have any questions, I’m happy to discuss them with you.

                                                                                Sincerely,

 

                                                                                JACK M. MARTINS

Jack,

For the record I agree, there have been outright lies. inaccurate information and confusion by those who have voted yes to the Governor’s budget.

For the record:

  • 100% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on standardized test results. If you read the legislation, if a teacher gets an ineffective or developing score on the test portion of the evaluation, it does not matter what they receive on the other parts.  Thereby making the test 100% of the evaluation. That’s a fact, that’s why your vote was the wrong one.
  • You state that the SED will set evaluation criteria. So effectively you voted on an unknown. Just today Chancellor Tisch was questioned about the concerns raised on these evaluations. She claimed that the concerns were just “noise and nonsense” by ” special interest groups”. Your vote effectively passed the buck, but your constituents now see through this.
  • You claim the public will have input. How can we have input when Tisch refuses tio recognize the anxiety and stress put on children. She blames their anxiety on “rhetoric”. More like our input will be met with the same blank stares we witnessed during the forum you moderated in Mineola last year. Not promising and yet another reason why you should have voted no.
  •  The new legislation also allows outside evaluators as well as trained administrators from other buildings who may no nothing about the children in the classroom and peers from within. The legislation provided no funds to pay for the training or compensation for the evaluators. It also allows districts to choose yet another state exam ( some districts may choose this if it is a cheaper option).  This weakens the role of the building administrator as the instructional leader in their building and it has no pedagogical benefit. It merely will create ‘dog and pony shows’.
  • Let’s look at the state aid component, which you have left out. You promised us a complete elimination of the GEA. Our district will only be getting about 39% of the GEA lifted this year. That is 61% short of your promise.
  • The Senate, Assembly and the Regents all recommended anywhere from $1.8B-$2.2B in state aid. You settled for anywhere between $1.4B and $1.6B. Well short of our needs. Yet you gave yacht owners  tax breaks, claiming it creates jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to create jobs in education rather than cut jobs?
  • The budget also failed to address the damaging tax cap which has forced many districts into precarious financial difficulty.
  • To claim the deadline forced you to vote for this terrible budget, makes one wonder why the legislature allowed late budgets ( sometimes months late) in the past. Your argument doesn’t fly Jack.

 

Bottom line.. your vote on the budget was wrong. Your rationale on teacher evaluations is wrong. In 6 days the children in your district will be beginning 540 minutes of exams that are above their reading level, not age appropriate, and if past years is any indication they will be full of errors. You had the chance to end the abusive testing that does nothing to assess the child, drive instruction or improve education. It only abuses children.

 

I do appreciate, the dialogue and hopefully I can get you to change your mind and introduce real legislation that will end this madness. I am still willing to meet with you. Just give me a call.

 

Ralph Ratto

Today there will be many parents, children and educators standing in front of Jack Martins office calling him out for is vote. I am confident that other state senators will be hearing the same message from their own districts as well.

It’s time to end this madness.

End of Year

It’s that time of year when we start seeing end of year lists in review. We become inundated with lists of everything from soup to nuts. Especially nuts this year!

Here is my list of questions,  still unanswered, as 2014 comes to a close. Feel free to provide an answer if you can or pass them along.

  1. Why are graduation rates at historic levels ( high school, college and post secondary) if our public schools are failing?
  2. The stock market is at an all-time high, so why are public schools underfunded?
  3. In New York State and many other states, property values are driven by the quality of the school district, so why is Governor Cuomo tying the hands of local communities to fully fund their local schools?
  4. New York State is no longer in financial trouble, so why does Governor Cuomo continue to use a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scheme ( Gap Elimination Adjustment) that robs public schools of budgeted school aid?
  5. Why is New York State funding schools below 2009 levels while giving tax breaks to casinos?
  6. Where is the evidence that Common Core State Standards are age appropriate?
  7. Just what does the term “college and career ready” really mean. Especially when it is used to assess kindergarten through 6th grade children?
  8. Why does the New York State Education Chancellor and Governor Cuomo continue to state that our teachers are failing students when 93.8% of all high school graduates ( excluding NYC) are earning a ‘Regent’s Diploma”?
  9. Where is the evidence to support the underlying requirement of the Common Core that all students should be at the same level of understanding at the same time?
  10. Where is the research that supports the current practice of having elementary age children take hour upon hour of tests to measure teacher, administration, and district effectiveness as well as their own level of understanding?
  11. Why is it acceptable to dismantle and hand over our communities’ most important assets ( our schools) to private entrepreneurs?
  12. Why do our legislators do so little for the social needs of our communities while at the same time blaming our schools?
  13. How do states justify reducing the number of teachers while at the same time proclaim all students deserve a good education?
  14. Why have our public school teachers become the nation’s scapegoat for poor public policy?
  15. Why are special needs children being denied special education services?
  16. Just where is the evidence that supports the ideal that Charlotte Danielson and her contrived rubric should be the standard for teacher evaluation?
  17. Why are teachers’ unions unfairly labeled when the evidence shows that where they exist student achievement is higher?
  18. Why has President Obama been silent on high stakes testing since his State of the Union 2 years ago when he said testing should be limited?
  19. When will states be up front and honest and inform their residents that Lotteries do not increase funding for schools?
  20. When will all public sector unions join together and demand in a collective voice, “workers’ rights, pay, benefits and pensions for all”?

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